Strategic Politicians and U.S. House Elections, 1874–1914


Jamie L. Carson ( is assistant professor of political science, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-1615.
Jason M. Roberts ( is assistant professor of political science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455.


One of the most fundamental changes in post-World War II congressional elections has been the rise of candidate-centered campaigns. This phenomenon has given rise to considerable theoretical and empirical literature demonstrating the strategic behavior of congressional candidates. Yet very few scholars have assessed the effect or existence of strategic candidate behavior for the pre-World War II era. We seek to fill part of this void by exploring the extent to which experienced or quality candidates played a role in influencing the electoral fortunes of incumbent House members in elections spanning the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Our findings suggest that in terms of strategic emergence and electoral performance, congressional candidates exhibited patterns of behavior which are strikingly similar to those seen in modern-day campaigns, suggesting that individual ambition is the best explanation for candidate behavior in both eras.